Hadley Free­man meets Patti LuPone

Lloyd Web­ber? Trump? Madonna? Euch! As the Broadway leg­end pre­pares to star in Com­pany in Lon­don’s West End, she set­tles old scores – and starts some new ones. Hadley Free­man meets her

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Patti LuPone is giv­ing her ra­di­a­tor a good smack. “I can NOT fig­ure out how the heat works here!” LuPone – the queen of Broadway, the god­dess of the mod­ern mu­si­cal – bel­lows with the sort of fierce­ness that has driven peo­ple she’s worked with to hide in ter­ror. “Is it hot or cold? I can­not fig­ure out what’s go­ing on in this coun­try. I can­not fig­ure what’s go­ing on in my coun­try, ei­ther. Oh my Gah­h­h­hhd, don’t get me started!”

We are meet­ing in the Lon­don town­house where she is stay­ing while ap­pear­ing in Mar­i­anne El­liott’s hugely an­tic­i­pated pro­duc­tion of the Stephen Sond­heim mu­si­cal Com­pany, which opens next week. LuPone is a the­atri­cal leg­end, a two-time Tony win­ner who was the orig­i­nal Evita on Broadway and the orig­i­nal Fan­tine in Les Misérables in Lon­don, her dis­tinc­tive, pow­er­ful and emo­tional voice help­ing to turn their ac­com­pa­ny­ing al­bums into mega-sellers.

But LuPone gained an ex­tra level of fame last year for her po­lit­i­cal opin­ions. In the sum­mer, she was on the red car­pet at the Tony awards when a re­porter asked her why Pres­i­dent Trump should come see her sing. “Well, I hope he doesn’t,” LuPone said, “be­cause then I won’t per­form.” “Re­ally?” “RE­ALLY.” “Tell me why,” the re­porter said. “Be­cause I hate the mother­fucker, how’s that?” she replied. The in­ter­view im­me­di­ately went vi­ral.

“Ha! That was some­thing!” LuPone cack­les. “I can’t stand the red car­pet. It’s just so te­dious and I’m not good on it be­cause I will al­ways speak my truth, and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily ap­pro­pri­ate in the en­vi­ron­ment.”

It is hard to imag­ine LuPone ever wor­ry­ing too much about ap­pro­pri­ate­ness. In the US, she is so fa­mous she has played her­self on Glee, Will & Grace and Girls, al­ways three parts brassy, one part ter­ri­fy­ing and two parts hi­lar­i­ous, which turns out to be pretty much what she’s like in real life. “And that is the last time she fucked with a woman in a wig cap,” was one of her lines on Girls, and it is easy to imag­ine LuPone say­ing that for real.

Dur­ing our time to­gether, she ca­su­ally slays mul­ti­ple rep­u­ta­tions: “Hal Prince is the cru­ellest di­rec­tor I’ve EVER worked with! He’s a great g stager, but a ter­ri­ble di­rec­tor.” Prince is the 21-times s Tony win­ner, who di­rected d her in Evita in 1979. When nI I ask what she thought t of Madonna’s per­for­mance ance as Evita, she replies: “Madonna? Euch! But ut I can’t re­ally talk about t Madonna. Madonna’s ’s Madonna – I’ll leave it at that.” At one point, , she de­scribes an ex­tremely fa­mous per­son as men­tally un­sta­ble, ca­su­ally adding: “Maybe don’t print that be­cause he once tried to sue me.” And as for An­drew Lloyd Web­ber, well, we’ll get back to him in a bit.

Doubt­less di­rect­ing LuPone pre­sents chal­lenges. “I am ex­act­ing,” she con­cedes with pride, “and I push.” But lis­ten­ing to her is a hoot. “If some­one has the tal­ent they have the RIGHT to be tem­per­a­men­tal. They com­plained about Bette Mi­dler when she was do­ing Dolly, but she wouldn’t be ex­cit­ing if she wasn’t tem­per­a­men­tal. It’s only the ones who don’t have the tal­ent who make you say, ‘Just get out of here!’” Who would dare ar­gue?

LuPone doesn’t just have high stan­dards for her­self and other per­form­ers, but also the au­di­ence. In 2009, she paused in the mid­dle of per­form­ing Gypsy to call out an au­di­ence mem­ber for tak­ing pho­tos. In 2015, she de­scended from the stage and snatched a woman’s phone af­ter LuPone saw her tex­ting mid-per­for­mance. “I am fear­less on stage. Not just to grab peo­ple’s phones – but I will do any­thing on stage, be­cause any­thing can hap­pen and the au­di­ence wants it to.”

In her 2011 mem­oir, LuPone says she fell in love with act­ing at the age of four while in a school play. She re­alised: “Hey, they’re all smil­ing at me. I can’t get in trou­ble up here. I can do what­ever I want and they’ll still smile at me.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, rare is the ar­ti­cle about LuPone that does not in­clude the dreaded four-let­ter word “diva”. She twitches her head away at the men­tion of it, like she is flick­ing away a wasp. “It’s just be­cause women are sup­posed to shut up, or not think those thoughts or talk back. It’s crazy. But talk­ing back is some­thing I’ve done since I was a lit­tle girl, and it’s al­ways got me in trou­ble. Ha!”

Which brings us to Com­pany, Sond­heim’s 1970 mu­si­cal about a young man called Bobby who just can’t set­tle down, much to his be­muse­ment and frus­tra­tion. But for this pro­duc­tion El­liott has swapped Bobby for Bob­bie, played by Ros­alie Craig. “I think it makes the show more pow­er­ful,” says LuPone. “It’s al­most cliched for a man to be non­com­mit­tal, and Bobby was al­ways a co­nun­drum for me. I un­der­stand the char­ac­ter much bet­ter now, be­cause the stakes are higher for women who wait.” LuPone mar­ried her hus­band, a cam­era­man called Matthew John­ston, when she was 39. They have one son, Joshua, a writer and ac­tor.

But it was the di­rec­tor’s gen­der that most in­trigued LuPone: she hadn’t worked with a fe­male di­rec­tor since 1977. “Which is in­sane. I mean, my GAHHHD.” So even though LuPone, now 69, had an­nounced she would not be do­ing any more mu­si­cals, af­ter a hip re­place­ment, when El­liott of­fered her the role, she de­cided to post­pone her semire­tire­ment. Was it worth it? “Oh,

‘Lloyd Web­ber, the poor guy – it seems to me he wants the kind of crit­i­cal suc­cess Sond­heim has’

my God yes!” she says, thump­ing the ta­ble. “We need more fe­male di­rec­tors and writ­ers.”

LuPone plays Joanne, Bob­bie’s old­est and most cyn­i­cal friend, who has some show-stop­ping num­bers. As a role, it seems made for her, but when I ask whether she talked about it with Sond­heim be­fore com­ing to Lon­don she be­comes un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ten­ta­tive. “Er, not with Steve, no. I don’t think I’m Steve’s first choice,” she says. But you’ve done so many of his mu­si­cals! “Well, that’s why. I’ve done so much by now.” I al­ways imag­ined you two as hav­ing a close re­la­tion­ship? “Well, right NOW it’s good,” she says with a laugh. “We know each other so­cially, be­cause we live near each other in Con­necti­cut. But I have to be care­ful with him pro­fes­sion­ally, be­cause he’s ex­act­ing.”

You’re pretty ex­act­ing, too. “I try to be, but I’m not as ex­act­ing as him with the score, and he’ll let me know when I’m not. And there were times when it was hard to take. I think I’m re­ally lucky in that I call the man Steve, and I’m work­ing with a liv­ing com­poser, who hap­pens to be Stephen Sond­heim, and I don’t try to take it fur­ther than that.” Watch­ing LuPone speak with cau­tion is a lit­tle like see­ing an ele­phant tip­toe through a china shop and we both re­lax when she gets to the end with­out any dis­as­ters.

LuPone was born in Long Is­land, New York, the only daugh­ter of first gen­er­a­tion Ital­ian im­mi­grants. Af­ter her school in­tro­duc­tion to the stage, she made it into the first-ever class of the Juil­liard School’s drama divi­sion. Also in her class was a hand­some curly-haired man called Kevin Kline, with whom LuPone quickly be­came “en­trenched in love”. The two were to­gether for seven years un­til, as LuPone bluntly puts it in her mem­oir, “he slept with a cho­rus girl in Bos­ton”.

With more than a tiny amount of sat­is­fac­tion, she says: “He was all over the place when we broke up.” Are they still friends? “Umm, we’re not en­e­mies! We’re friendly, but friends are the peo­ple you call and see and hang out with, and very few of my friends are in show busi­ness.” Af­ter break­ing up with Kline, LuPone was cast as the star of An­drew Lloyd Web­ber’s Evita, an ex­pe­ri­ence so dif­fi­cult she once said it was “like Beirut”.

“It made me a star, but I had a ter­ri­ble time. Oh my Gah­h­h­hhd! That’s why I’m sort of coun­selling Ros­alie. I know what it’s like to go through a trial by fire.” LuPone was so anx­ious about her singing, she prac­tised un­til she lost her voice. Dur­ing re­hearsals, cast mem­bers tried to help by telling her how Elaine Paige had played Evita in Lon­don.

“Shut up!” LuPone even­tu­ally snapped. “And,” she writes in her mem­oir, “a rep­u­ta­tion was born.” Be­cause, while it’s true that a woman gets called a diva just for speak­ing up, it’s also true that LuPone’s mem­oir is stud­ded with anecdotes about her telling peo­ple to go jump – and smash­ing mir­rors in fury. “Why com­plain about some­one who de­liv­ers?” she shrugs un­apolo­get­i­cally when I men­tion her rep­u­ta­tion.

But Evita was a walk in the park com­pared with the next time she worked with Lloyd Web­ber. In 1993, he cast her as Norma Des­mond in Sun­set Boule­vard in Lon­don, which led to what is still one of the most in­fa­mous feuds in the­atre. LuPone had ex­pected to take the show to Broadway, but Lloyd Web­ber fired her and re­placed her with Glenn Close. LuPone sued him over their agree­ment and she got more than $1m, which she partly used to build a pool be­hind her fam­ily house in Con­necti­cut. She glee­fully told ev­ery­one it was called The An­drew Lloyd Web­ber Me­mo­rial Pool.

When LuPone per­formed Don’t Cry For Me, Ar­gentina at the Gram­mys this year, it was widely as­sumed the feud was over, but such an as­sump­tion un­der­es­ti­mates LuPone. “We haven’t made up, no. No! What he did…” Twist­ing the knife, she adds: “The poor guy – it seems to me he wants the kind of crit­i­cal suc­cess Stephen Sond­heim has.”

LuPone was also fu­ri­ous with Glenn Close. It prob­a­bly didn’t help that Kline had a re­la­tion­ship with Close af­ter he and LuPone broke up in the 1970s. I tell her that I read last year in a New York tabloid that the two women went out for drinks and made up, and were then joined by Jon Hamm, Mad Men’s Don Draper, and Girls star An­drew Ran­nells.

“That’s bull­shit!” she says. “They got that ALL wrong. I was out with An­drew and Jon – and Glenn was at an­other ta­ble. Glenn came to us and she si­dled on up to Jon Hamm. She needed to make her­self known to Jon Hamm! Ha ha!” She laughs, ca­su­ally plung­ing in an­other knife.

De­spite all ev­i­dence to the con­trary, LuPone in­sists she’s ready to slow down. She has an Ital­ian pass­port (“which means I be­long to 28 coun­tries!” she says, stick­ing the Brexit knife into me) and she dreams of trav­el­ling “this beau­ti­ful Earth” with her hus­band. “I want the quiet life,” she sighs long­ingly, then im­me­di­ately goes into a fu­ri­ous rant about how “the Chris­tian right in Amer­ica is no dif­fer­ent from al-Qaida. Print that, be­cause some­one needs to say it out loud!”

And then, sus­pect­ing she’s just started an­other almighty row, she makes an­other big cackle.

Com­pany is at the Giel­gud the­atre, Lon­don, un­til 22 De­cem­ber.

‘Talk­ing back is some­thing I’ve done since I was a lit­tle girl’ … Patti LuPone; left, in her new Com­pany role

Stages … in Sun­set Boule­vard, 1993; with Kevin Kline in 1975; par­ty­ing with An­drew Lloyd Web­ber in 1988

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